Hello. I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Psalm 76 is a hymn of praise to God, the great warrior. Today, instead of following the poet into a prayer that asks God to be our warrior, let’s reflect on the topic of war as the Bible presents it.
The theme of killing to solve relationship problems surfaces in the first book of the Bible. After Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, they had two sons. Cain, the elder, felt God was showing favoritism to Abel, his younger brother. Cain’s solution was to kill Abel. Today, individuals and nations still use this approach to address difficult relationships.
Much of the Old Testament details the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land. The Bible describes the conquest not as a “holy war” or “genocide”, but as a “divine war”, in which God demonstrates his power against false and evil gods to establish worship of the one true God. This is why the psalms celebrate God’s victory over evil and idolatry, and urge God into further battles. (See Thomas, Heath. The Old Testament, “Holy War” and Christian Morality. Blog post, 21 November 2011 at https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/the-old-testament-holy-war-and-christian-morality/).
But when God’s chosen nation, Israel, fell into idolatry, God showed that he is no respecter of nations. He sent warring nations against Israel to expose and correct their errors. And what of Israel today? Does God protect them as his chosen nation? Or is Israel balanced on a sharp edge of violence and corrupt politics, as their ancestors were when God decreed the Babylonian exile?
In the New Testament, Jesus and Paul are realists about war. The Israel they lived in was conquered and occupied by Rome. Using a battle metaphor, Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mat 10:34), and he predicted a future filled with “wars and rumors of wars” (Mat 24:6). Paul told Timothy to “fight the battle well” (1 Tim 1:18). In the book of Revelation, John had a vision of “divine war” at Armageddon at the end of time, when God will attack and destroy the enemies of his persecuted and oppressed people (Revelation 16).
I make three comments on war in the Bible
- First, wars and killing are pervasive in biblical stories and imagery. Just as they are in human history, for as long as people have written their stories and painted pictures on the walls of caves.
- Second God is present and active in human history, including wars. We’re fortunate that he doesn’t abandon us when things get messy and violent.
- Third, I find it helpful to interpret my life using metaphors of war. There are Goliaths within I must kill–hate and lies and envy. There are enemies in the world we must fight–injustice, poverty, and ignorance. Whether the psalms speak literally or metaphorically of war, they paint a true picture of the life we live and the God we serve.
Let’s pray, using some of the images from Psalm 76.
O God, you are radiant with light,
more majestic than mountains rich with game.
The valiant lie plundered,
they sleep their last sleep;
not one of the warriors
can lift his hand.
At your rebuke, God of Jacob,
both horse and chariot lie still (vv. 4-6).
O God, we have caught a vision of your radiant light, more majestic than mountains. As we journey, stumbling in darkness toward this vision, we encounter enemies everywhere. The world and our own hearts are rampant with prejudice, with lust, with pettiness and anger. As you waged divine war on behalf of Israel, so wage divine war in our lives. Lay waste the enemies of our souls, rebuke them until horse and chariot lie still, until evil sleeps its last sleep.
You, God rose up to judge,
to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
You are a God to be feared and obeyed, because nothing stops your plan to bring righteousness and justice and peace. The violent will be deposed, the unjust punished, and the wicked rebuked. O God, cleanse us from unrighteousness, purge the violence from our hearts, that we may greet you with joy and not with fear when you come.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.